By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
“Social change is as slow as the world is turning,” Fields imparts with Christ-like wisdom. It’s no coincidence that Russell Metheny‘s set features a massive copper ring perched atop a quartet of Romanesque pillars and marble slabs. In Act 1, the ring’s entire circumference contains a swath of dried sagebrush -- a crown of thorns, so to speak.
Were the play to replace chunks of its romantic and biblical mythology with more candor and character, it might provide balm for those chaffed by our current administration‘s war drive. Still ignores FDR’s contortions to get America involved in an unpopular war -- however just it turned out to be -- choosing instead to have Redwood give a folksy caricature of Winston Churchill, with whom Roosevelt met at a Florida hideaway. All we learn from the meeting is that Churchill had a penchant for tumblers of sherry. How many visits to the Smithsonian did it take to come up with that one?
Our current administration‘s zeal for war and domestic control is not an aberration but part of a larger historical pattern. Much of the angst and terror shared by those attending recent anti-war protests comes from the illusion that we’re on uncharted waters, when we‘ve actually been down this swamp many times before. Senator Joseph McCarthy threw a can of paint all over the Bill of Rights in the name of national security and even called Truman a commie: no mention by playwright Still. Fields seems vaguely in touch with civil rights, but the Japanese internment camps never cross his lips.
For Still to grapple with (or even just mention) these officially sanctioned abuses may not only put context to the current sense of outrage, but it would also provide some comfort -- cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless -- that perhaps we’re driving in ellipses rather than off the edge of a cliff.
The whitewash effect of Looking Over the President‘s Shoulder is a bit like having 22 years of domestic and foreign policy explained by Colin Powell. The production’s creators are clearly spiritually invested in this project. The Kansas City Star reports that a suitcase Redwood uses in the show contains soil from Lyles Station, Indiana, from the church Fields attended as a child. Such devotion is very nice. A commitment to telling the whole truth would be nicer.
LOOKING OVER THE PRESIDENT‘S SHOULDER | Written and directed by JAMES STILL | Performed by JOHN HENRY REDWOOD | At the PASADENA PLAYHOUSE, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena | Through February 23